Sub Standard

Strange as it is that the U.S.S. Greeneville, with an entire ocean at its disposal, could pick the exactly wrong spot to surface, what's truly unreal is the fact that the U.S. maintains a huge sub fleet for no discernible reason -- at least until political realities are factored in.

First, it is not at all unusual for bands of civilians to get the full, thundering joy-ride treatment in Uncle Sam's war machines, à la the Greeneville's would-be charity golfers. After all, these "show the flag" missions generate good P.R., and good P.R. counts toward bigger budgets. In the Pacific fleet alone, more than 11,000 civilians took part in 238 trips aboard Navy ships.

Next, even though the threat of Soviet subs that could launch missiles just minutes from U.S. cities has disappeared, taking with it the Pentagon's rationale for spending billions building 60-odd attack subs, the military-industrial complex that churns out subs has not. Two even bigger, better attack subs are already under construction, with at least seven more planned.

To help justify all that spending, the Pentagon has devised a new job description: Submarines will be intelligence-gathering sneaks, lurking near world hotspots ready to lob a cruise missile or two into the fray. A more inefficient use of subs is hard to imagine.

But it isn't hard to imagine that the $7 billion the program will generate for places like Newport News, Virginia, is a very efficient way to win political support in Congress. This, it seems, is the sub fleet's real mission: a jobs program.

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